Activists say mob violence in name of religion must end

    Human rights activists have expressed serious concerns over the recent incidents of mob violence, calling for “a broad-based dialogue on religious tolerance”.

    The speakers at a Feb. 18 seminar on “Let religion not justify violence” urged the political actors and religious leaders to go beyond the ceremonial condemnation, and take action against the actors involved in hate crimes and provoking people to take the law into their hands.

    The organisers, including the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and the People’s Commission for Minorities Rights (PCMR), emphasised the need for a National Action Plan to counter religious extremism and intolerance.

    On Feb 12, a mentally ill blasphemy accused was brutally killed and his body stoned after being hung from a tree in Mian Channu tehsil while another accused was injured by a violent mob in Tandlianwala area of Faisalabad the next day, Feb 13.

    At least 85 persons have been killed extra-judicially from 1986 to date since the promulgation of strict blasphemy laws introduced during the Zia period, claimed CSJ.

    “Lynching of suspected criminals at the hands of crowds, big and small, has lately become frequent an occurrence in Pakistan. Mob killings over accusations of blasphemy — a crime that can carry the death sentence — have been frequent in Pakistan. It is often assumed that these incidents involve gruesome acts of violence, yet sometimes these incidents are engineered and deliberate,” said Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice, Peter Jacob.

    “Mob lynching covers the crime. Complicated by inefficient police response and an ineffective criminal justice system that provide impunity to the perpetrators.”

    “The qualitative indicators such as; the harassment of entire minority settlements, for instance, attack on a Hindu temple at Bhong, Punjab in August 2021 manifest the severe repercussions of allegations against the minority population in particular.”

    In 2021, at least 84 persons were accused under the blasphemy laws. Three persons were extrajudicial killed including the lynching of Priyantha Kumara in Sialkot.

    The highest number of victims (45) belonged to Muslim faith identity followed by Ahmadis (25) while seven each were from Hindu and Christian communities. However, the minorities were affected by the abuse (over 46%) more than their share in the population which is 3.5%.

    In 2020, the highest number of reported cases was against Shia Muslims (140 out of 209) in the districts of Chakwal and Chiniot, which are the strongholds of two sectarian organizations, while the highest number was recorded in Shiekhupura (13) in 2021 followed by Lahore (11) and Kasur (10), all districts of Northern Punjab. Over 80% incidence during 2021 had surfaced in Punjab province.

    “It is transferred biologically. In our society, it is very easy to convince people spiritually. Religious anger is a major excuse for crimes. The clerics should teach right theology,” Uzma Ashiq, a psychologist said while addressing the moot.

    Other speakers demanded the government to initiate informed and serious debate in the legislative assemblies to adopt substantial measures to prevent the misuse of blasphemy laws and put an end to extra-judicial killings and mob violence.

    “The government needs to come out of the state of denial with regards to hate crimes and violence in the name of religion and dismantle the infrastructure of religion-based intolerance,” concluded CSJ press release.

    “Review and strengthen the NAP for the counter-terrorism 2014. Reassess and strengthen the Paigham-e-Pakistan initiative including the civil society and media and strengthen the human rights protection systems. Hold a genuine dialogue on the issues of religious intolerance based on factual data involve all stakeholders.”

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